Sudden hearing loss (SHL) is a not uncommon — but not well-understood — phenomenon. If it happens to you or someone you know, the first step is to seek immediate medical help and advice.

Sometimes SHL is only temporary. But sometimes it is not.

Stress is believed to be one possible cause of SHL. This is based on the fact that most SHL events include a reduction of blood circulation in the inner ear. Stress is known to wreak havoc on blood circulation in the body.

Other possible causes include long-term repercussions of middle ear infections or other viral infections like herpes or chickenpox, arteriosclerosis, metabolic issues like diabetes or high cholesterol, spine injuries like whiplash, blood clots, autoimmune diseases, and occlusion of the inner ear’s blood vessels.

Not surprisingly, the preliminary symptom of a bout of SHL is a sudden reduction in the ability to hear — oftentimes in only one ear — without any recognizable cause and no accompanying earache. Secondary symptoms include dizziness, a numbness in the outer ear, pressure in the ear, and tinnitus (a constant sound heard that is not actually occurring in the environment).

A bout of SHL requires immediate medical attention. There are ways to stimulate circulation in the inner ear that may solve the problem in short order. Other immediate diagnostic tools include ear microscopy and MRIs. These may reveal obstructions or other issues that are the cause of the problem. Blood work may also be done to search for culprits.

If there is no quick cure, any issues with obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure will be addressed. Any stress that is taking a toll will be examined and hopefully alleviated.

There are a number of other treatments available for less common triggers of SHL. The most important takeaway is to seek medical help immediately.